Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

The Bloodied Sacred Pine Tree: A Dialectical Depiction of Death in Kurosawa's Throne of Blood and Ran

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

The Bloodied Sacred Pine Tree: A Dialectical Depiction of Death in Kurosawa's Throne of Blood and Ran

Article excerpt

Since the release of Throne of Blood/ Kumonosu-jo ("The Castle of the Spider's Web") in 1957, several interviews with Kurosawa and quite a few scholarly articles have dealt with the interpolation of the aesthetics and techniques of no (traditional aristocratic theatre) in this adaptation from Shakespeare's Macbeth. For example, Kurosawa stated in one interview:

This is the film in which I most interpolated from no: scenery, make-up, costume, action, raise en scene. I can analyze the film segment after segment according to the forms of no (Shirai, Shibata and Yamada 75).

In another interview, with Sato Tadao, Kurosawa specifies the elements that he borrowed from no, such as interpolating versestyle, role characterization, and movement qualities (Sato, Kirosawa Akira kaidai 192-96).1 After the release of Ran (1985), which has a plot design similar to Shakespeare's King Lear, Kurosawa also spoke in general about the influence of nb on the film's costumes (Nishimura, Kyosho no mechie 19-20), while the film's costume designer, Wada Emi, distinguished specific applications of certain no costumes and masks to particular roles (Wada 28; Nishimura, Kyosho no mechie 202-04). Takemitsu Toru, the music composer for the film, attributed the singing and the characteristic movements by certain characters in kyogen (the comic short plays in no)2 to direct instruction by a kyogen actor (Nishimura, Kurosawa Akira 305). Several scholarly articles make reference to the application of aesthetics and techniques of no to various elements in the film: characters, style of acting, movement, dancing, singing and costumes.3

In these two adaptations of Shakespearean plays, the various death scenes raise interesting questions concerning the borrowing from or influence of na aesthetics: death scenes are not shown and blood does not appear at all on the no stage, even in a symbolic way, since they are considered vulgar elements. Although many other aspects of these films have been discussed in the past, no analysis has been provided of their death scenes.

In this article, I contend that the deaths of the murderers and their victims in these two films reveal a unique manifestation of a dialectical depiction of related death scenes. Kurosawa effectively fashions these scenes by rearranging elements especially borrowed from the two main genres of Japanese traditional theatre-no and kabuki (traditional popular theatre). He juxtaposes all the murders of innocent victims with the subsequent killing of the murderers: he conceals the actual murders while manifesting them through a symbolic presentation, using no aesthetics, to honor the innocent victims; whereas to disgrace the murderers, he offers a highly concrete presentation of their deaths, more similar to that found in kabuki aesthetics.

No, the aristocratic lyrical theatre established in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, draws its material from many sources and its form from ritual and folk dances. It is essentially a drama of soliloquy and reminiscence, without dramatic conflict. In many of the no plays categorized as mugen no (phantasmal no),4 the waki ("side"-deuteragonist, or character foil) is usually a traveler, visiting a famous place where he encounters a local inhabitant, the shite ("doer"-protagonist), and asks to be told the famous story associated with the place. At the end of the story, the inhabitant declares that he is in fact the incarnation of the hero of the tale, upon which he disappears. The traveler pauses on his journey and sometimes falls asleep and begins to dream. In a short interlude, another local character provides a more simplistic version of the story (performed by a kyogen actor). Only the main player usually wears a mask. The performer who played the first inhabitant appears again in the second part as the ghost, but in the human form it had held in life, and recounts his past experience through singing and dancing. Finally day dawns and the ghost disappears. …

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